EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- So I was chatting with New Jersey Nets scouting director Gregg Polinsky on Monday at the team's practice facility, informing him that he had left me with the distinct impression that the Nets had been more impressed with DeMarcus Cousins than Derrick Favors after working out the two power forwards that morning.
Not the case, Polinsky argued, somewhat unconvincingly.
Cousins had wowed the Nets' player personnel folks with a display of outside shooting that no one ever got to see when he was manning the low post at Kentucky, whereas Favors was shaky from the perimeter.
Cousins also outweighed his contemporary by 43 pounds. Polinsky addressed the red flag issues surrounding Cousins by stating that in his opinion, the player who clashed with his coaches in high school and college was "not a bad apple."
The biggest question now for the Nets is which player will be able to step in and be a force at power forward alongside Brook Lopez -- a need new owner Mikhail Prokhorov listed as No. 1 when he traveled to New York late last month and introduced himself to the city basketball fans by declaring "We will turn Knicks fans into Nets fans."
Left unspoken was any appraisal of the talents of Yi Jianlian, the player who started the majority of games at power forward for the Nets during last season's disastrous 12-70 campaign.
Prokhorov made it clear he felt the team needed an upgrade -- specifically, a bruiser -- to play alongside Lopez, the team's No. 1 asset.
"What you get with Cousins is a little more power, what you get with Favors is a little more pop [jumping ability]," Polinsky said."Both will work."
"The way the workout was structured, because they didn't go chest-to-chest, we still got a good look and got to see some of the agility, their quickness around the rim, their hand skills, their ability to read double-teams," Polinsky said. "Even though you didn't have 10 guys on the court, you still got enough of a view to make a determination that both these guys know how to play.
"It would have been easier if one guy came in and did very little and you were very disappointed, but we were not disappointed," Polinsky continued. "I think we all walked out of there going 'These are going to be two really fine NBA players going down the road.' "
The consensus around the NBA is that Washington will take John Wall with the No. 1 overall pick, and Philadelphia is locked in to selecting Ohio State forward Evan Turner at No. 2. That will leave the Nets to choose between Favors, Cousins and Syracuse small forward Wes Johnson, all of whom have made the trek to New Jersey for private workouts.
Workouts continued Wednesday at the Nets' facility, with Cincinnati point guard Lance Stephenson of Lincoln H.S. in Brooklyn, N.Y., showing his stuff. He is among the players who could still be on the board when the Nets select 27th (with the pick they acquired from Dallas in the Jason Kidd trade) and 31st.
The Nets could find themselves with an additional selection in the late teens or 20s if they can swing a trade involving veteran Keyon Dooling, who is particularly attractive to teams looking to clear salary-cap space. Dooling is on the cap for $3.83 million next season, but he has a $500,000 buyout that would allow a team that acquires him to clear an additional $3.3 million in cap room.
Despite their substantial salary-cap space and the allure of playing not only for Prokhorov, but also for a franchise partly owned by rapper Jay-Z, the Nets are not among the most alluring of destinations for the top-tier free agents. The team is planning to play in Newark, N.J., for the next two seasons while its new home in Brooklyn is built, and a two-year stint in purgatory is not quite as attractive as what the Knicks (a chance to play at the Mecca of Basketball), Heat (you won't need a winter coat), Bulls (instant conference finals contender) and others will be selling.
So the trick for the Nets will be luring someone from the second tier of free agents (think Joe Johnson or Tayshaun Prince) with the enticement of spending the next several years playing alongside one of the NBA's best young big men, Lopez, and one of the game's speediest point guards, Devin Harris, under the tutelage of an incoming coach, Avery Johnson, who brings with him the NBA's highest winning percentage (.743) for any coach with at least 250 games under his belt.
But another big part of New Jersey's sales pitch to free agents will be what the team did in the draft, and how far those players will go toward meeting Prokhorov's professed goal of making the playoffs in 2011 and winning a championship by 2015.
With the No. 3 pick, it's a question of upside (Favors) versus skills (Cousins, Johnson).
Again, Cousins showed more polished skills (including 20-foot range on his jump shot) when he worked out alongside Favors.
As was mentioned above, if you walked out of the facility revisiting everything you had just heard from the team's scouting director, you couldn't help but believe that Cousins had leapfrogged his way to the front of the line for the spot where the intrigue in Thursday night's draft is expected to begin -- with the Nets at No. 3.